The first time I read A Wrinkle in Time, it was part of a 4th grade reading assignment, where each student had to choose a book that all the other students would then take turns reading. I’ll be honest. A Wrinkle in Time, chosen by the only kid in class who could spell Czechoslovakia (which was both still a country at that time and quite the feat of spelling), fell somewhere between the books Soup on Wheels and Freckle Juice, both of which resonated with my 9-year-old bookish self a bit more than A Wrinkle in Time.
With its more complex character development and themes of love and individuality that seemed beyond my years or at least beyond Soup on Wheels, that initial reading didn’t leave me feeling all that inspired. That said, I fortunately returned to the book just a few short years later and have since read it at least half a dozen times. With each new reading, more of the book’s magic and wisdom is revealed to me, largely through its oh-so-relatable 13-year-old protagonist and my personal geek girl hero, the plucky Meg Murry.
A Place Further than the Universe is not your typical “cute-girls-doing-cute-things” anime, and thank goodness! Sure, the four protagonists are cute teen girls, but that is where the similarities with the genre end. Instead, A Place Further than the Universe is a coming-of-age story in which Mari Tamaki, Shirase Kobuchizawa, Hinata Miyake, and Yuzuki Shiraishi learn about themselves (and of course, friendship) during an expedition to Antarctica.
While Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki all have great character development, Shirase’s narrative stuck with me. The writers made her a character full of contradictions: stoic looks, but full of emotions. She’s super stubborn, but only until she catches a glimpse of penguins. I love her character because she’s an ordinary, realistic girl who will stop at nothing to achieve the extraordinary.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of anything, I’ve been a fan of Star Wars. I have vivid memories of sitting on a friend’s couch watching The Empire Strikes Back and being completely immersed in the experience.
Princess Leia was my favorite character. She was a girl just like I was, and she was snarky, had great hair, and did everything the boys did. Years before I had ever heard of fanfiction, I was mentally writing elaborate adventures for Leia as she repeatedly saved the universe in increasingly spectacular (and improbable) ways.
I have a pretty established preference for the serious when it comes to T.V. drama. (TGIT, anyone?) However, one night, about a year ago, in a room-cleaning daze, I happened upon the silliest, most light-hearted, and most romance-novel romantic series I know of: Jane the Virgin. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve come to expect from a binge-worthy dramatic T.V. series and yet, I love it.
Jane the Virgin is about a woman, Jane, who, in the midst of finishing school, getting engaged, and suddenly reuniting with her long-lost superstar father, is accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and is a jarring but captivating juxtaposition of telenovela tropes and real characters and problems. The drama is decadent, the writing is masterful, and the characters are hilarious, but that’s not the reason I will recommend the show to anyone and everyone. That’s not what has caused me to write not one but two academic papers analyzing the story’s development. I love Jane the Virgin because I love Jane.
It’s dark in space. Cold. And after a while, it’s a job just like any other. This is the world we are dropped into at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Alien.
Through voyeuristic cinematography, we’re introduced to the crew of the Nostromo. There is nothing glamorous about this version of space. Their jobs seem something akin to long-haul trucking, and their living quarters are about as clean. They make small talk, give and receive orders, and generally look bored. Of course, that all changes when they run into an alien species.
I’d love to wax poetic about the incredibly tense, bare-bones script of Alien that follows, but that’s not my focus for today.
My focus is warrant officer, Ellen Ripley (played with femininity and strength by Sigourney Weaver). She is one of the best examples of a truthful female character to date.
From the first moment she appears on screen she is treated with an equality rarely afforded women in film. She is shot with the same camera angles and lighting as everyone else. She wears no makeup because a person performing a job such as hers would not be wearing any. Her uniform is the same cut and fit as the rest of the crew. Nothing about her is highlighted in a stereotypical leading lady fashion. She’s just one of the crew.
The story moves forward as the characters struggle to make sense of the creature threatening their every move. Ripley fights, second-guesses, and makes mistakes along with the rest of the crew, but she is never treated differently because she is a woman. Certainly, she is strong, but she is notjust strong. She is frightened, flawed, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Her strength comes from her resilience in the face of being imperfect.
Ripley finally prevails over the creature, but not before being forced to give up everything, even (temporarily) the atmosphere in her escape pod. Her desire to survive is found in all of us. It’s coated in humanity’s DNA. It knows no gender. It is singular in its pursuit.
It is worth pointing out that the character was originally written with a man in mind. That piece of information gives the idea of strong female characters a whole new perspective. The character of Ellen Ripley is competent, real, and entirely female. This is because she is presented to us that way.
Armed with this simple behind-the-scenes knowledge we are given the most blaring example of gender-as-construct. Ellen Ripley identifies as female, so the actions she takes are viewed as female. Having strong, complex, emotionally alive female characters is as simple as focusing more on the character’s desires and actions and less on their presented gender.
Who we are is determined by what we do. When we create female characters with this focus in mind, they will be filled with all the tenacious strength humanity has to offer.
I have a hearty admiration for well-written female villains. Hearty, I say, because it is a severe, bountiful, and vigorous admiration, but also because they still seem to be few and far between. While female protagonists are progressively growing in rank, it’s sad to see the nurses from Silent Hill on more “Top Tens” than characters with actual dialogue. It’s not that we totally lack woman antagonists, but we do lack a variety that have believable backstories, relevant motives, and some good TLC from the good ol’ writers. There is a place for leotards and sultry walk cycles, but they still need to fit into some sort of justified environment and have at least a smidgen of narrative integrity.
Ann Uland, Emily Willis and Cat Batka are the creative squad behind Cassius, a new comic series that depicts Ancient Rome as a wonderfully diverse place, and with a driving story of political intrigue and loads of strong female characters. We’ve reviewed Issue 1 here, and Issue 2 here. Issue 3 comes out in March 2016.
They took a little time out to have a chat with us at GeekGirlCon about Justin Trudeau, their favorite books, and making their own comic company!
L to R: Ann, Emily, Cat. Photo provided by Emily Willis and Ann Uland
Tell me a little about yourselves and Arbitrary Muse Comics. How did you come up with the idea for making your own publication?
Ann Uland: We first met online because I started drawing things for a story Emily was writing. When we started dating, it was pretty natural for us to start coming up with stories we wanted to tell together and comics is the perfect marriage of writing and art for us.
Emily Willis: Arbitrary Muse evolved as a small comics company to encapsulate what we do when we sell our own self-published work and help to distribute other webcomics in print as well. Cassius is our latest project because Julius Caesar is my favorite Shakespearean play and I wanted to work on something inspired by it.
I’ll admit, I haven’t watched the last season of Parks and Recreationyet. I keep putting it off because the longer the episodes stay unwatched, the better I can convince myself that it isn’t over yet. Because Parks & Rec not only has (not had! We’re not in past tense yet!) the best ensemble cast TV has seen in years, but it also boasts the best lady role model I’ve ever seen in primetime.
When Parks & Rec first debuted in 2009, it seemed almost rote to compare it to the other workplace mockumentary airing at the time: The Office. But where Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott is incompetent, irritating and whiny, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope is determined, friendly, caring, devoted, feminist, and strong—and I want to be just like her when I grow up.
When most people think of South Park, I doubt that feminism comes to mind. For years, the satirical show has been best known for its crude humor and irreverent catchphrases. To me, though, one of the most impressive elements of its ongoing eighteen-year run is the development of Wendy Testaburger’s character.